Clarke: “It was on a knife-edge”

Ulster may have spoiled his first ever return to Kingspan Stadium on Friday night but Allen Clarke is remaining positive as the Ospreys prepare for the final push towards Champions Cup qualification.

Jacob Stockdale’s last minute try denied the Ospreys even a losing bonus point in Belfast, putting a dent in their hopes of pipping the Blues to the final automatic qualification spot, but Connacht’s defeat in Glasgow means that the Ospreys have guaranteed themselves at least a play-off for the top tier European competition next month. 

Reflecting on the game, and the performance, that saw Ulster dominate but the Ospreys defend for their lives to go into that final minute just three points behind, interim head coach Clarke has no complaints with the outcome despite his disappointment. 

“We’ve no argument with the score line” said Clarke.

“It was a tremendous defensive performance from us tonight. We showed a lot of valour and character but we weren’t good enough with the ball, we weren’t good enough at the tackle contest, at the breakdown, and we didn’t put them under any pressure with the ball in hand.

“We’ve had a good chat about it, we know what we are about, we are in the play-off so we may end up back here and that in itself will be a challenge. We’ll have to be a lot better.”

Pushed for his thoughts on some crucial moments in the game, Clarke acknowledged that Kieron Fonotia’s disallowed try was a possible turning point in the contest:

“It was on a knife-edge. We hung in there at times, the yellow card obviously knocked us a little bit in the second half.

“We thought that was a perfectly good try. I think if you look at most breakdowns in that regard, you can look at a lot of aspects tonight, it was tough. I’m not saying that anyone should condone neck rolls but you look at most breakdowns tonight, it seemed a really harsh call at the time. It looked more shoulder than neck to me.

“We were up against a passionate crowd and some of the decisions didn’t go away but ultimately, we’re looking at ourselves in terms of what we need to do better going into the next couple of games.”

With next weekend seeing the rearranged trip to Parma to face Zebre after last month’s postponement, Clarke said that the focus is now firmly on bouncing straight back to winning ways after a first defeat in five games.

“We had ambitions to keep winning, we’ve been on a good run” he continued.

“The things we’ve done well we want to keep doing well. Unfortunately we didn’t display that tonight. We didn’t put a complete enough performance together tonight or anything near it. 

“But, we know what we are about, we’ve still got a lifeline. It’s what we do with that. The mantra hasn’t changed, it’s one game at a time, so we’ll dust ourselves down, get our recovery done, get back and prepare for Zebre.”